Ukraine truce shattered; at least 75 people killed today in protests
Fresh fighting broke out in central Kiev today, shattering a truce declared by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, as the Russian-backed leader met European ministers demanding he compromise with pro-EU opponents.
The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland were due to report back to EU colleagues in Brussels later today who will decide on possible targeted sanctions against those deemed responsible for the bloodshed.
A Ukrainian presidential statement said dozens of police were killed or wounded during the opposition offensive hours after Yanukovich and opposition leaders had agreed on a truce. Witnesses said they saw snipers firing during the clashes.
The health ministry said 75 people had been killed since Tuesday afternoon, which meant at least 47 died in today's clashes. That was by far the worst violence since Ukraine emerged from the crumbling Soviet Union 22 years ago.The country is the object of a geopolitical tug-of-war between Moscow, which sees it as the historical cradle of Russian civilization, and the West, which says Ukrainians should be free to choose economic rapprochement with the EU.
The renewed fighting, which subsided after about an hour, heightened concern voiced by neighboring Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk that Ukraine could descend into civil war or split between the pro-European West and Russian-speaking east.
The EU ministers' meeting with Yanukovich was delayed for security reasons but began an hour late. They expected to present him with a mixture of sanctions and enticements to make a deal with his opponents that could end the bloodshed.
A statement from Yanukovich's office said: "They (the protesters) are working in organized groups. They are using firearms, including sniper rifles. They are shooting to kill.
"The number of dead and injured among police officers is dozens," the statement on the presidential website said.
Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko said on Sky TV: "As we can see the truce has broken."
Television showed activists in combat fatigues leading several captured, uniformed policemen across the square.